by Julia Ross, historical (2002)
Berkley, $12.95, ISBN 0-425-18469-2
I should've known when all the glowing reviews of this book also drop the names Mary Balogh and Jo Beverley, and when these authors offer their glowing thumbs-up sign too. I should've known after Illusion, but I'm a bit slow. It takes $12.95 of my hard-earned money to have the Anvil of Enlightenment hit me hard in the head.
No, I'm not a sophisticated romance reader now. No, I haven't seen the light.
I hereby instead raise Julia Ross on the pedestal as the third member of the Hair Suit Sex Tirumvirate, after the Misses Balogh and Beverley, Patronesses of Women Who Have Sex For The Sake Of Mankind, They Who Bear No Responsibility For Their Sexuality (For Such Is The Fate Of Historically Accurate Helpless Countrified Widows and Bluestockings), Amazing Graces and Amazing Martyrs, and Mistresses of Overratums.
And funny, I have never noticed how fond Julia Ross is of short sentences and exclamation marks until now. Since sex here is already one borned of duty and misery, it won't be long before Ms Ross mindmelds with Robin Schone and becomes the new Mistress of Sad Sex Melodrama. Wait, that's Linda Francis Lee. Anyway, Ms Ross ought to be more careful or she may end up writing about anal sex. Now that will send all her genteel readers into shock.
Alden Granville-Strachan, the Viscount of Gracechurch, is a beautiful man. I say this because like all of Ms Ross' heroes, Alden is poetry made life of the darkest sins a bad boy could have. Under any other circumstances, I'd be in love. But not here, not today. He loses all he has in a card game. Oopsie. A so-called friend Edward Vane and another so-called friend Reginald Denby offer him a way out: if he can seduce a widow named Juliet Seton and present her locket as proof, his debts will be considered bygones.
And so the game is set.
For a book about seduction, Ms Ross sure knows how to set the stage. You ever find a game of chess sexy? That's what it is in The Seduction. Unfortunately, the story of seduction soon morphs into "I'm a sad widow and the world is out to get me, so screw me now please!" sex-for-rescue mama-drama.
And the author isn't above using Anvils of Expositions, as if she doesn't trust me to like her hero. It is as if she fears that all potential readers will drop this book while browsing, and she will lose her second shot at greatness. Oh please. Alden's badness, his debauchery which he makes no apologies for, is what attracts me to this story in the first place. But next thing I know, Alden is a Responsible Guardian to Lil' Orphans, oh, oh, please readers, do symphatize with that poor man. Oh please, I have to snort here. Yeah, I bet someone pressed a gun to poor Alden's head to force him to wager all he has. More Anvils are dropped by the author along the story, showing me, begging me to feel sorry for Alden, even before he shows signs of redemption. Again, puh-lease.
As for Juliet, she's like a irony-free parody of all the pathetic exploitation poster girls out there. Alden deliberately lets himself be stung by a bee, knowing that where charm fails, he will entice the heroine by presenting an open wound and watch as the healing-crazy wench practically wets herself on the spot as she grabs for the bandages. I tell you, if he splits his skull open, she'll marry him on the spot.
When Juliet throws the tables on Alden in one chess game, offering him the chance to win his wager, I am shocked. This is midway around the book, and I finally come to full alertness. Is the party about to start? Is Juliet finally going to show some brainpower where all she did previously was to whine that he's hot but she must not?
No. As it turns out, she must have sex with him just to show Edward Vane the finger. The threat of her husband - or at least I think it's a threat because to be honest, most of the nonsense Juliet puts herself through is caused by her own inability to behave outside the preprogrammed set of Baloghian rules - becomes an excuse for her to beat herself up over her attraction and later, capitulation to Alden. Apparently, fidelity to an absent and an ambiguously unpleasant husband is the way to live, and every slip-up is an excuse to rip's one heart out and ask everyone to watch as she tears it to pieces. Such melodrama, and a rather stupid one at that, can only be for show, and in this case, I guess it's for me to admire her for her ridiculous melodrama.
It's painful on my senses, but I have to admit, this is a grand way for a "virtuous" heroine to "dirty" herself with sex without any accountability on her part. Don't hate her, readers, it's merely Duty Sex. When he's coming, she's thinking of Mother Theresa's beatific face as she smiles, oh what a wonderful, wonderful woman she is, Proud and Strong, Sacrificing Her Body for the Sake of Goodness and Mankind!
As for Alden, well, he too becomes a victim of the Sex Is Bad, Sex Is A Duty theme pervalent in this book. Soon he is shagging for all the wrong reasons: orgasms in the name of rescue and pity, only this is pathetic pity sex elegantly disguised as love. This is not a seduction as much as two really sad and neurotic losers having sex for all the wrong reasons: they are having sex to show me how honorable they are, because see, the aftermath of regrets and recriminations somehow make the whole sordid act of copulation - how nasty, and worse, it stains the pretty and lacy tablecloth - make the whole act of sexual abandon more proper, more acceptable. Or something.
I can't take this. One single sex act is followed by a thousand wails of recriminations, regrets, and self-larceration. It is bad enough that the giant Anvils of Expositions fall all over a wildly running me like meteors from the sky ("Alden loves kids! Good! Juliet loves kids! Good!"), bad enough that Juliet's thought trains are always in italics and ending with an exclamation mark more often not (hysterical nitwit - let's put her down!), but the whole air of showy matyrhood and postured angst drive my blood pressure off the roof, no, off the stratosphere. In the world of The Seduction, the penis and the clitoris are just another extensions of one's neuroses.
But hey, this is just me. Judging from the loud raves and confettis strewn over this author's floral path flooded with coital fluids, debris, and other remains of the author's bloated, exaggerated, and overblown portrayal of a "battle of sexes", she's doing something right. Don't mind me. I'm, in fact, happy that Alden and Juliet have their happy ending. After 400 pages of unneccessary, self-inflicted mental buggery with the giant dildoes of misplaced duty and pride, someone ought to be having fun at my expense. My poor $12.95, I barely knew ye.
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